How To Keep Hope Alive : A Leader’s Role In Troubled Times

There’s plenty of talk about tough economic times, making it easy to be distracted and even despondent.
Leaders who remain focused and positive can help themselves, their staff and their organisation weather the economic storm.
This is critical time for leaders to “step up” and realise the difference they can make. What their teams need from them is an almost unshakeable confidence in their ability to succeed regardless of the current situation.
In Learning to Lead Warren Bennis tells us, “leaders are the vision keepers, the guardians of hope”. His research places the act of providing optimism as one of the key behaviours followers need from their leader, alongside building trust and creating vision.
To motivate others leaders must be energetic, enthusiastic and optimistic in themselves.
This optimism however needs to be founded in reality. It isn’t about delusions or grand plans but about commitment to, and passion for, the vision of the organisation. It’s about the willingness to take risks and being prepared to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than chance to allocate blame.
Succumbing to the doom and gloom promoted by the media can prove toxic in workplace where followers may already be feeling uncertain about their jobs, their future.
Imagine professional sports team that has had tough season announcing at press conference, “times are tough so we’ve decided to cut back on the coaching staff, reduce practice time, eliminate the recruiting programme and halve the size of our facilities”. Action is one thing – death knell is quite another.
In this instance the press would have field day, season ticket holders would forsake the team and the general public would lose interest after good laugh. Now substitute publicity for press, customers for ticket holders.
And remember it is not only official announcements that can perpetuate gloom. Leaders must also watch out for the non-verbal cues they are sending out to their teams.
As leadership researcher and author Jim Kouzes says, “It all boils down to keeping hope alive.”
“Keeping hope alive” is much more than slogan. Keeping hope alive is essential to energetically achieving the highest levels of performance. People with high hope, compared to people with low hope, have greater number of goals across various arenas of life, select more difficult goals and see their goals in more challenging and positive manner.
Let’s make this clear. Keeping hope alive is not about being Pollyanna. It is about getting your leadership balance right. That balance is between being both tough and empathetic; showing optimism while being realistic; being self-reliant while still trusting others and showing sense of urgency while demonstrating realistic patience.
Hope is an attitude in action. It builds the credibility that people look for in their leaders. It keeps your vision alive, promotes trust and encourages everyone in your organisation to take action towards that vision.
Some key questions for leaders in the current fiscal environment:
• What positive steps have you already taken to keep hope alive – and how can you communicate those to others?
• What can you do daily to demonstrate positive and hopeful outlook?
• What can you do to recognise those who are making positive contribution?
• How do you keep yourself, and others, enthused about the work you’re doing?
And final word. In tough times promise less – but put everything you have into making those promises reality.

Anne McLaughlin adds her years of HR experience and training to that of her Nexus Partners colleagues who have been developing and consulting with leaders for more than 25 years. See www.nexuspartners.co.nz.

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